Misallocation of force

I haven’t been sleeping well, I think it’s because I’m excited. It doesn’t feel like excitement: It just feels like ordinary, miserable insomnia.

I can’t really control my feelings, but can make them into something else. I twist them and try to make them serve other purposes, or to put them on hold. This is after-the-fact reasoning, by necessity: the control that I am trying to exercise over them somehow is going on behind my back and has already actually gone on behind my back, my feelings hit the stage in the wrong costumes.

They enter my sphere chained, already restricted feelings, dangerous feelings with resentment and violent tendencies. They have been causing havoc. They don’t feel good, or hopeful, or energetic, or any of the things they are. They feel anxious, and tired, and angry and irritable and ready to contest.

Since I have displaced them from their proper objects, they kind of hover: they don’t have any objects. They are like the ghosts of feeling, but angry ghosts that can manipulate in this world. That’s how I’ve reasoned it out. Though you might think anxiety is appropriate: It can’t be easy to give up a life, even if it’s one you don’t care for. It’s still the only one you have.

Except when I contemplate my feelings, or let them go, give them room to unfold – I have a technique for doing this that involves getting myself half-asleep, if you can call zoning out a technique – I am really excited. It’s a very thrilling feeling, I feel like a child, or even better, I feel relaxed and excited and happy. Something like: going to see a movie I wanted to see with a friend I want to see more of at a theater I enjoy in my favorite neighborhood at the end ofa long happy day. I have energy, I have hope and I am open and responsive and my world can barely wait to show me its possibilities. This is the hidden feeling underneath my anxiety, discontent, and fatigue.

It’s a strange overall picture, and I don’t know how to account for it. But I notice it not only when I zone out and give the feeling a free playing field to express itself. Exploring a topic related to my service, exploring the language, doing anything related, and I can feel myself expand, I feel the spring in me as usable energy, and I get a lightness in my chest. It’s unfathomable to me why it should be this way: my energy is earmarked for a particular purpose, and if it is not used, or used for something else, it rebels and makes trouble where it can.

Outside my window

My west-facing window is divided in two. The north side slides laterally. I don’t think the panes or the frame are original, but the external setting contains some old wood indeed: it’s so weather worn it’s almost not there at all. It’s a bundle of splinters that continue to associate from habit.

The south, fixed side of the window is on the outside. The moving side is backed with a screen, and has a permanent smudge which covers over half its area in a vertically elongated diamond shape; in combination with the screen behind it makes a double distortion. At night, the center of this area glitters and the streetlights beyond grow fuzzy spring dandelion heads.

The other pane is still dirty, but clearer. I can see downtown Portland and the west hills, and Morrison Street falling away to the river. My whole building shakes whenever a bus or a large truck goes down this hill, and my windows give a faint rattle. I can’t help imagining a hollow underneath my hill.

I almost feel a little ground washing away, a hundred feet beneath me, every time I flush the toilet or unplug my bath. I get a grainy, gravelly flavor in my mouth, like a taste of the unreliable sediment down below. The thought of my perch, bricks, wood and all tumbling away beneath me, all except that which clings to a skeleton of pipes, is enough to keep me from using the water, or stirring from my seat.

Emergent ignorance

Looking around, most people in my office spend most of their time avoiding the work, or trying to slough it off or reduce it. Little attention is spent on their duties or the overall performance of the work. They chat, they space out, they steal office supplies, or spend time on their personal business or recreation, there’s a general tendency to avoid resopnsibility. Many people don’t know some of the basic procedures, aren’t interested to know, want to keep employed and get occasional praise but not much beyond that. And then there’s this as well, there are others who are struggling for power, or trying to shame others or to take work away or spending time attempting to appear better to those in power, and to keep others from that same attention. But it’s the mystery of emergence. But somehow, out of all the chaos and competition and contradiction and difficulty and waste, inefficiency, and couterproduction, the overall work done by the department is good, is reliable, is fast; it’s expanding its scope and doing better by all measures all the time.

I heard on the radio part of an interview with someone studying ant hills. She said that individual ants are stupid, inefficient, and blind. They don’t take the shortest path anywhere, they move at random, they work against their fellows. She observed a pair of ants, each trying to take a twig different ways, standing on opposite ends of the twig, standing and playing tug-of-war for days on end, neither of them moving from the spot. And yet the ant colony as a whole is an extremely efficient organization, and ants are a very successful species. The individual, inefficient, short-sighted ant, trying to make its own life better and responding to its own imperatives, makes an effective part of the emergent whole nonetheless.

But the colony isn’t like the office, the ant isn’t intelligent, it operates on instinct and can’t see its colony’s goals, any organization built on ants has to be emergent, because the ant can’t hold the whole picture in its mind. However the analogy is closer: The workers on my floor don’t see the overall picture. Each of them knows their task well, knows the tasks of some of their neighbors less well, and has no idea what people on the other side of the room are doing. And the management perspective is incomprehensible to them as well. When, rarely, they are able to see the decision-making on higher levels, they find it abstract, incomprehensible, or both. And management on its side has little to no idea what happens on our level, what our work procedures are, how they are implemented and what they mean for the worker or the work. Their ignorance is hard to keep hidden, and it never fails to be mocked when it appears. The people who design the systems don’t know how we use them.

If there is any knowledge of what goes on, it isn’t in any one person’s head. In fact, when something needs to be known about the work, outside analysts are required, who definitively know even less than the people here who know little or nothing, and have to invent or modify their own tools to do learn what we do, and they only learn in relation to the questions that are asked of them, and then their answers have to be interpreted to be understood. There is no one who has the perspective able to account for everything, or any one thing’s place in the scheme. Management sends down orders, goals, procedures, but the workers, in the process of enacting them, each interpret them differently and no two people do the same thing in the same way. They are surprised by details in the other’s work every time they consult with one another. Workers send up results but have no idea how these are used in intra-management discussions or how those discussions influence them or why, in the course of which the results are interpreted away and replaced with something unrecognizable. The emergent structure isn’t controlled by anyone, it isn’t designed by anyone, and nobody knows what it looks like or what it does in any detail.


I’m thinking of starting blogging again. There’s been something missing in my life, and it might just be the instant gratification of instant publication. But I’m not sure that splagkhna currently has quite the right look. So I’d like to ask a question to the floor. What do you think about how it looks, how usable is it? Anything that bothers you, what do you like, what should change, what shouldn’t?

Should I add a blog on the sidebar, with links and shorter posts? There are currently only two posts on the front page – does that work, or should I go to a longer, list-type format? Is it easy to find the archives if you want them? Should I keep the categories, or ditch them? Is it easy to read? Is it easy to see when there is a continuation of the post to read on click-through? How about the color scheme, okay to read?

I think I was very happy writing a blog before, and I’m really kind of puzzled about why I stopped. It didn’t stop being fun to actually write it, but I began to feel very bad every time I considered writing on it and when I thought about what I had written. It felt like shame. I wanted to scrub all the evidence of my entire existence on the internet, which is what I more or less did. What I don’t understand is what I thought there was ashamed of.

But I’ve gotten a handle on a lot of the problems I was having that might have made me have those feelings, and hopefully they won’t carry over, although they had become so familiar in the past. At any rate, thanks for reading, both now and previously. Writing is the only thing I have ever really wanted to do, and it’s been too long since I let myself enjoy doing it, and life’s too short to put off doing what you like to do.

Stray thoughts

I used to think: faces are like characters, or they match them. It might seem that people don’t look like who they are, but you think that because you haven’t understood yet what they look like. I also used to think (and I’ll still say it, if I’m feeling pressured) that people aren’t who they are: because people are only what they aren’t yet (they shine brighter where they’re living on their own boundaries, where they’re claiming new territory) or what they haven’t been for some time (long enough for that part to be calcified, solidified enough to see). Now I would say, I’m like this: I bear in mind the relation between my appearance and my actions, and I try to keep a counterpoint between them; and I don’t like to show who I am, but who I might still be, and who I comfortably am not.

I never had any real interest in or understanding of politics until this last year or so. My attitude was pretty arrogant: that’s for small minds. My thinking has turned a little (I see a different scene); the push came from two sides. Through interest in Russia, to Russian history, to interest in Central Asia and Mongolia and their history, I came to be interested in Turkey, and started to learn about its history, and then its politics. (Copy-editing on a Turkish newspaper three years ago did not get me to be interested, so now I view that time as wasted. It may not have been.) Turkey was distant enough, modern enough (hadn’t been a country for a full century), and small enough (but still big enough to be interesting) that I could be interested in its politics without affecting my view of myself. So I started reading about it, learning about it, seeing more and more in it. (I had been interested in anthropology and sociology before, but only to the extent that they seemed to show a hidden social world parallel to or an atmosphere or secret structure determining the interactions I saw while being completely another thing; not understanding them, but replacing them.)

That’s one side. Another: I’ve never, before the past few years, wanted something from a group of people that I couldn’t get and couldn’t make myself not want. (That makes me young in mind, I know. Or soft in skull.) At work, I want money and responsibility; I can’t get it as fast as I want; it’s taught me a great deal about power to try to get it. The power structure lit up, once I failed to bend it. The one band that snapped out of my hand set a quiver through the whole web, and I saw it. That’s stream number two. Following current politics, I think I see a little the forces moving behind the scene: the dwarves changing the scenery while the light show on stage distracts the audience, their hunched bodies coming too close and bulging out the curtain as they scurry out of sight. (That simile’s off: I can read motivations better, conscious motivations and intentions.)

Why did the world have to wait so long for graphic novels? We’ve had woodcuts, not to mention illuminated texts, for centuries. What was missing? Speaking of illuminated manuscripts, printing is so cheap, why are so few books decorated? (I should probably be thankful that illustrations are kept to the cover. Especially the Penguins. Can you imagine smudgy John Singer Sargent reproductions once every ten pages? But then, all I want is curlicue initial letters, and maybe an occasional angel or golem in the margins. Would that really be so hard? I’m sure I could find a few thousand in my old high school notebooks, I’d sell them cheap!)

Personality test

I don’t know anything about psychology, and I’m not interested enough to learn more than a casual browse on the internet will tell me about the Myers-Briggs personality test. (I don’t think my doubts are interesting, either, and I’m sure people are researching more interesting things that if I knew what they were I would agree are more valuable.) But I never can resist a Cosmo quiz or a horoscope. I used this test from humanmetrics.com, which also features a frightening online marriage assessment. Via OK Cupid, there are three short steps from Jung to an ISO on craigslist. Worse: middle managers, the supposedly responsible ones, the ones who are running the country (on a distributed level) or at least the ones who are sweating over the monthly budgets and taking responsibility for other people’s work and delegating team-building exercises, these people, these faithful tenders of our great nation’s endless cubicle farms, they take this test and study it interpretation, they assess themselves with it, they make decisions by it, and they work guided by its light. Though come to think of it, a manager on my floor, who seems to be doing all right and is trying to study French in her spare time, she’s spent at least one lifetime as a pioneer women living alone with no husband and a wagonful of dead kids, this can’t be worse than that. (I learned this the day I served my stint as a Cuban border guard; I had somehow gotten volunteered without my knowledge to stamp passports on behalf of my subdepartment on an international day on my floor. [No uniforms allowed, or any military insinuation: we had a Cuban political refugee somewhere. Maybe hiding in the mailroom. Could be offended, wherever they were.] I went to scope out my table, saw her decorating: cardboard palm trees, a portable beach mural, a giant flag, fried plaintains [cold], and I called her resourceful. Yes, she said, fluttering the undersides of her corneas at me, I’ve been regressed three times. I’ve been very resourceful every time I’ve lived.)

Anyhow, it thinks I, along with 2.4% of the population, am an ENFJ, whatever that means. I certainly don’t know how to interpret it. This interpretation is flattering, and this one is incomprehensible. Well, not fully comprehensible. Nor neither comprehensive: it’s a personality I can do, but is it total?

I don’t want to lose sight of the original reason I had for posting this. Although I’m not sure anymore. Here’s a run-up on it and a grab-it-from-behind: I am puzzled by the large, heavy fact of personality. The shape of what you have shown yourself to be, the who are trying to be and where you are in your growth towards that, and the border drawn around your possibilities (and their probability gradients), I don’t like any of these things, they unsettle me. Above all, I think, I’m bothered because they shouldn’t be measurable. Because if they’re measurable, they exist, they are constraints on the person. And sooner or later, if I encounter the same constraints and I can’t get them to move, I’m liable to give up. When my blog gets a personality, I’ll abandon it. When I’m used to where I am, I leave it. When I’m comfortable with my friends, I stop answering their emails, or do my best to provoke them into breaking with me. Well, that’s not the whole story either: I’m ashamed of who I am, whatever that happens to be at any given time, and if I think I am losing possibilities or freedom, I panic from fear of remaining the shameful thing I am in the shameful way I am. And the older I get, the more hiding from being ashamed is a permanent personality element, and another dark door closing me off from light and space.